A “lost” Hancock screenplay resurfaces

August 31, 2011 at 7:07 pm (BBC, cinema, comedy, history, Jim D, literature, TV)

Tony Hancock dreamed of a successful film career and becoming an international star. It was not to be. One can’t help feeling that Hancock never understood or came to terms with, where his true talent lay: as the frustrated, delusional, misunderstood ‘little man,’ trapped in the down-at-heel suburban world of Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. He was the true foreunner of David Brent and/or George Costanza

But Hancock admired the suave figure of George Sanders and  longed for international – and especially American – recognition. If only he’d stayed with his Railway Cuttings persona (in reality, an extension of himself) and lived another twenty or thirty years, he’d probably have achieved it.

Hancock sacked the brilliant scriptwriters who’d created his “Anthony Aloysius Hancock” character first for radio and then TV: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. It was the single biggest mistake of his entire life (and he made plenty of mistakes along the way). Galton and Simpson went on to refine and perfect the style of comedy they’d been writing for Hancock, with their tragi-comic masterpiece of a series, Steptoe and Son; meanwhile Hancock’s career went down the pan into alcoholism and despair: he eventually ended it all during a disastrous tour of Australia in 1968. “Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times,” he wrote in his suicide note.

In fact, Hancock’s two feature films, The Rebel (1961) and The Punch and Judy Man (1962) were not, in my humble opinion, all that bad. The Rebel, in particular, has some excellent scenes, like these:

Note the presence of Hancock’s hero George Sanders (who, ironically, also commited suicide – though for rather different reasons).

The Rebel was, of course, scripted by Galton and Simpson.

Now a 1961 Galton and Simpson script for a Hancock film that was never made, has been unearthed from Galton’s cellar. The scriptwriter, now 81, had forgotten all about it! It seems Hancock rejected the script (for a film to be called The Day Off, about a failed romantic in an industrial town) as too parochial, and not in keeping with his international aspirations.

But journalist and comedy historian Christopher Stevens, who discovered the script while visiting Galton last year, says “It’s probably the best thing they (Galton and Simpson) ever wrote.”

Ray Galton says, “I suspect it’s too long, because everything we wrote in those days was too long. It probably needs half an hour taken out of it.”

Stevens has suggested making the film, possibly with Paul Merton or Jack Dee in the Hancock role. He has also commented on Galton and Simpson’s present-day attitude to their old employer: “They pick their words very carefully. They don’t want to impute blame to Tony because they know he was going through awful times emotionally. And they loved him.”

1 Comment

  1. Matt said,

    The funniest scene in The Rebel imho is where Hancock dressed as a budgerigar escapes in a speedboat from a fancy dress party on a yacht, goes to the airport, approaches the check-in desk and says, “I’d like to fly to London.”

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